Episode 64: Boosting major gift income during the pandemic – with Angie Turner

Episode Notes

As some income streams have been hit so hard, attracting major gifts has been more important than ever for many charities. But how do you do this, in spite of all the other pressures during the crisis?

In this episode, Rob is excited to share his recent interview with a wise, experienced fundraiser named Angie Turner. A fundraiser for 30 years, Angie has learned a great deal about effective fundraising. This year, The Children’s Trust, where Angie is Head of Philanthropy, exceeded an already ambitious (pre-COVID) target for major gift income by a fabulous 28%.

In the interview, Angie explains why she is so committed to the sector, before going on to share a range of principles and tactics she has found to be more crucial than ever this year. This includes ways to encourage donors to match fund; organising your pipeline; building effective relationships within your charity; and lots of ideas to engage and inspire your supporters.

If you want to share this episode with colleagues or on social media because you think it will help other fundraisers – THANK YOU SO MUCH! – we are both on Linked In and on twitter Angie is @AngiecarterUK and I am @woods_rob.

Further Resources

Ongoing training and inspiration

Free E-book. If you’d like to know powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, then do check out my free E-book: Power Through The Pandemic – Seven ways to raise money with major donors, corporates and trusts, even now. You can download it for FREE here: brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power

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Check out our training and inspiration club for fundraisers, the Bright Spot Members Club. If you’d like to find out more about all the training bundles (available 24/7) and live weekly problem-solving sessions and masterclasses or to try for just a month, go to www.brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join/

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If you’d like to find out more about our six-month Major Gifts Mastery Programme which helps you increase trust and major donor income, you can find out all about it through the link above – or feel free to get in touch through the Contact section if you have questions.

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 Quote from this episode

‘When your donors feel truly valued, they want to continue making a difference, they’re really proud to be making difference.’

Angie Turner

Full Transcript of Episode 64

Rob:

Hi there, brave fundraisers and welcome to episode 64 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. This is the podcast for anyone who works in fundraising and who wants some ideas, some encouragement, and maybe a dose of inspiration to help you enjoy your job and raise more money especially during these turbulent times.

Today, if you’re a major donor fundraiser or if part of your job is to manage high value fundraising for your charity, I think you’re going to find this episode really helpful because today I’m going to share a conversation I recently had with a wise and hugely experienced fundraiser named Angie Turner. Angie is head of philanthropy at a charity called The Children’s Trust. And across a 30 year career she’s performed a number of fundraising roles in this and other charities.

I’ve long admired Angie, not only for the amazing results she consistently achieves and for her understanding of fundraising and her ability to share that, which you’ll get a sense of in a minute, but also for the way that throughout her career, she’s made time to help so many other fundraisers across the sector. For instance, for many years, she’s played a really influential role in the major donors special interest group for the Institute of Fundraising, and she’s currently chair of that group.

In the last financial year, fundraising results through major donor fundraising for Angie’s charity were up a fabulous 28% on the target that they’d set before COVID hit. In this interview Angie share some of the key principles and tactics that she’s learned over the years that have helped her achieve these results.

Like all my interviews recently, I recorded this conversation remotely, but I need to mention that this time there were a few moments when my broadband caused the audio recording to wobble a little bit. So please do excuse that, and I hope it won’t distract you from the ideas that we explore. So here’s my chat with the excellent Angie Turner.

Angie Turner, welcome to the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast.

Angie:

lovely to be here, very excited. Thank you, Rob.

Rob:

Yeah. So you and I had a quick chat the other day and I was so impressed by the various things you’ve been doing this year and the way your very loyal, generous donors have stepped up massively this year. And in a moment, I want to get into some of the things you focus disproportionate energy, I think, as a high value fundraiser in doing to help that to happen. But just in terms of context, please remind me and so the listeners can get it, what’s your job title and what’s the name of your charity and how long have you worked there?

Angie:

Well, I am the Head of Philanthropy at The Children’s Trust. And amazingly I’ve been at The Children’s Trust for 22 years in various roles, Head of Community, Head of Corporate, and now Head of Major Donors. I love major donors, it’s my favorite area so far. It’s something I’m very passionate about.

Rob:

And Angie, one thing I often find interesting is to ask people who come onto the podcast what their route into the fundraising sector was because no two stories tend to be the same. What was that for you?

Angie:

I was in foster care when I was very little and when I was three, I was adopted and I always wants to make a difference to the charity sector. So after I graduated, I volunteered at the NSPCC, and just three days a week doing silver service waitressing, I was the worst waitress. And then I got the experience at the NSPCC and then I joined a breast cancer campaign as the first fundraiser, and I’ve been a fundraiser for nearly 30 years now, and it’s been an amazing career.

Rob:

Wow. I think one of the reasons I have always got inspired when you and I have had little checks and catch ups at various conferences when our paths have crossed over the years is, yes, I would learn things about major donor fundraising and so on because that’s been your focus for a while, but I’ve always had this sense of this breadth of experience because you’ve done various different kinds of fundraising and clearly there’s ways that helps.

In terms of today’s chat, I would like it to be primarily about that high value space. In a moment, I’d love to hear some things you’ve found that are even more important than ever during fundraising in the pandemic. But just to set the context, you said to me before that your donors have been amazingly generous at the time when is [inaudible 00:04:32] fundraising has been hard in certain other areas you’ve done really well in terms of really top line results. What have the results been for your last financial year during the pandemic?

Angie:

We had a very ambitious target at the beginning of the year and I was pretty petrified and it was going grayer by the day, but we have had an exceptional year and I’m very proud to say that at the end of the year, financial year, we were 28% over our regional target.

Rob:

Oh my goodness. I mean, goodness knows these are extraordinary things. I’m fortunate to talk to lots of fundraisers who are working their socks off and who are managing to succeed, but I also know how hard it is for lots of charities and lots of fundraisers, and they’re working their socks off and it hasn’t worked out that way. And it has been my experience that when someone does consistently well year after year, it’s usually not luck, and it’s usually not just about a particular brand that is attractive, for instance. There’s usually reasons why consistently they’re managing to get these really impressive results.

And one of my joys of the last many years is trying to find out what those people spend their focus on and maybe how they see the job. So if that’s okay, I’m guessing you’ve had to do lots of different things this year, but if you would just start me off with one of the key ideas or principles that has remained important this year, what would it be?

Angie:

I think the one really, really key thing is really getting to know your donors. Who are your top 10 or your top 20 donors? Where do those donors live? Who they are. And really, I always think, I’d say to a new fundraiser, “Speak to your donor like your godparents or your great aunt, how would they want to be treated?” How you do those handwritten cards, handwritten envelopes, the call, not just a call from you, but a call from the trustees, or the chief executive. When those donors feel very valued, they really want to continue making a difference, they’re really proud to be making difference. And giving up COVID, we sent out a COVID appeal, and it was fronted by the chief executive. And then we followed it up by calls and personal emails, and donors really gave exceptionally as well.

I think over the years we’ve had donors that have only given a really small amount of money, but we know that there is potential for them to give even more and we treated those donors exactly the same as the top donors, and I think that had to be key. An example was, we had a donor who used to give £40 a month. Gave £40 a month for the last four or five years, but we knew that there was potential for more. So I would always drop them a hand written note with any appeals, send them nice little emails, never used to get much response but I knew one day I did.

So I was sitting at my desk at home, sent them a COVID appeal, and I had a call from a donor who said, “We know that we have given you a small amount, but we would like to give you a large donation. And we wanted to do a match giving appeal and we would like to give you £50,000.” And I nearly fell off my seat and one of my highlights of my fundraising career, it was absolutely brilliant. We then launched another match giving appeal with a donor and we raised an additional £50,000. But their donation enabled us to raise over a £100,000 plus gift aid. And this is the donor who gave us 40 pounds a month.

But I think the really key thing is it’d be very easy not to know about that potential of that donor. And then we could have passed them over to the individual giving team. The really, really key thing I think is how you treat all your donors and knowing who your top donors are.

Rob:

Yes. What an amazing story. And the truth is, if we all had loads of time, I think most of us would think we would achieve that consistency. I think the really tough stuff is managing to have the system and/or the discipline to not be attracted by the most obvious shiniest rich option or the thing that’s right in front of your nose, but to care enough about each of those donors to be really caringly doing each of those tactics consistently. And I think in practice often that can turn out not to be easy so that’s one thing I really admire about your discipline.

And I guess another one, I think lots of our listeners would say, “It would be great if I could get my chief exec to be involved and proactively doing it, but I’ve tried and some of my colleagues, my senior colleagues don’t quite get it, they see us as a cash cow, but then they don’t make time for that.” And there’s no silver bullet, but from your experience, do you have any tips, either in terms of the making time for that consistency of the actions you do, or any tips for how you’ve managed to help your colleagues or senior colleagues make time for this being an important thing so it’s not just you being a good fundraiser, it’s helping your charity to do relationship this well?

Angie:

You have to see your senior executive and your chief executives as major donors themselves. And really, we know that they are very time poor, they really want to make a difference, but they might not necessarily have the time. How can we make it very easy for them to be able to work with sort of major donors? How can we brief them very brief emails, bullet point emails engaging them. And really when we actually get results and they’re meeting, updating them, engaging them so they really feel involved as well.

And I know sort of our donors, who’s going to get on well with the chief executive, who’s going to get on well with the fundraising director, who’s trustee, and actually pairing our donors up with a key person that they will engage with. And then really having stewardship plans for each of these donors with the chief executive. The chief executive might call up and say, “Six or seven donors every quarter.” And he will have his sweet spot donors, he will know. I will prepare documents, I will prepare letters, and all he needs to do is maybe sign those and edit those letters as well, really making it as sort of simple as possible as well, and really developing those relationships between the chief executives. Doesn’t happen necessarily a lot of time so maybe I would introduce them to a therapist or doctors onsite. And maybe the chief executive meeting but the donor really appreciates that time with the chief executive.

Rob:

I love this, Angie, and what I’m hearing is, at it’s simplest, you’re as thoughtful about how you positively influence and build that sense of doing these things internally as if they themselves were major donors. And my sense is, sometimes the reason that doesn’t happen in the charities is a fundraiser can get exasperated because they feel they shouldn’t have to. From their point of view, needing to raise money, “Surely everybody in my charity can see the value in… We’ve got to get the money. Why do I have to be thoughtful about going through these steps to try and make that happen? Don’t they get it?”

And my view is, in that moment, if you’re exasperated by it, you’re unlikely to really respect what’s going on for them, and therefore put the effort in. And as soon as you accept, “Well, okay, right now, they may not get it because their job is to do finance or their job is to run the organization.” And in the moment you don’t expect them to get it automatically, then you become willing to do these things so it starts from a point of… Your first point, I think, Angie was, “Let’s work hard to understand the donors.” And this second point seems to be, “Work hard to understand the point of view of your colleague.” And if the harder you work at that, then the more likely you are to work with them to make it easy for them to do.

Angie:

Yes, absolutely. And I think it doesn’t always have to be the chief executive. There can be other people in the organization, whether it’s the head of nursing or whether it’s the head physiotherapist, or whether it’s, say, new trustee, and I think that’s why it’s so important to use your LinkedIn contacts, who does the chief executive know? Who does the head of finance know? And linking in with them. And soon if you’ve got a meeting with… Have a donor, really looking at the network mapping, and who knows who, and what would their connection be? I think that’s so important.

Rob:

Ah, yes, that’s a great point. And I have heard sometimes some fundraisers have got stuck when the one figurehead who they thought was essential and the donor would need to be able to talk to, if that, for whatever reason, that’s not possible, often they sort of… That’s it, “The chief exec or nothing.” Whereas it in practice, it does not need to be that particular figurehead, and I sense there’s a real flexibility you’ve got to… There’s various different ways we could solve the need for the donor to talk to someone with a different level of expertise or authority.

Angie:

And again, it’s going back to sort of the great aunt or your godparent, who are they going to get on well with? Are they Scottish? Do we have a Scottish director of finance? Or is there somebody that’s mad about Chelsea Football Club? I love it when I have a donor who loves Chelsea Football Club, and I know they’re going to get on so well with our chief executive. The difficulty is most of that meeting might be about Chelsea. But it’s that engagement, and we’ve had our chief executive been invited to Chelsea matches, and it’s those things that are so important. It might sound obvious, but it really is building those relationships, it’s then getting the chief executive to do little handwritten cards on birthday cards to the donors, all those little things, it’s just relationship building.

Rob:

And so what is coming across really strongly to me is just to kind of… Your whole mindset is, “Let’s make this as human as possible.” Rather than as formal and on a pedestal and dry as possible. All the richness of the detail of personality, that’s what makes the relationship work. If I were to ask you to pinpoint another of the principles that you’ve learned to give attention to, and sounds like has been important even more in the pandemic year, what would the next idea be?

Angie:

I think maybe we’ll have to really look at sort of our virtual events. And I think when we started off, we were all dreading it, we thought, “Oh my god, virtual events, is it really going to work?” But they have worked for us and we’ve really looked at how we can do things differently. So we launched our Big Gift Christmas appeal, and we handle delivered mince pies, homemade decorations to about 30 of our key volunteers and donors. We had a team of volunteers delivering those, and they were just so pleased in the pandemic to actually person, they were so excited, and it really built that relationship, and they were so pleased to come along to the event. So that worked really well.

We also did some virtual tours, which was led by the chief executive. People could have a look around the site virtually, that worked well. We had quite a few strategy meetings with the chief executive. We were worried about how they were going to work, but they worked really well, and at each meeting we would invite three or four different donors. We’d look at sort of who would work well together, who would match. So we had three or four donors in a meeting with our director of fundraising and our chief executive just to talk about our new strategy, ask them for advice, and they worked really well as well.

Rob:

Hi, it’s Rob and I wanted to jump into the middle of this episode really quickly to tell you about something I’m so excited about, which is the way that our Bright Spot Members Club has been helping fundraisers to not only survive, but also to do really well, to raise funds so effectively during the pandemic. Through the club, our 300 members access to a whole library of my best training films, as well as regular live coaching sessions to help you handle whatever challenges are coming at you each week. And we’ve also found that handling these challenges has not just been about getting the right advice or strategy, it’s also been about morale, and we found that the encouragement and help that our members get from each other has really helped them to stay positive.

If you’re not yet a member, but you’d like to find out more, go to brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join. That’s brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join. I would love to welcome you to the club. Do my utmost to help you succeed in your fundraising. For now, though, back to the interview, as they asked Angie, how she plans activity to build relationships with major donors.

In terms of your approach to your pipeline and to looking after the many donors, especially those who initially might feel able or want to give at a smaller level, what’s your approach?

Angie:

Having a clear strategy and pipeline is absolutely essential. You really are going to need to know who you’re going to approach during the year, who are your top 10, 20, 30 donors? How are you going to approach those? So donors who give you £100 pounds, you’re going to treat very differently to donors who give you sort of £20,000, and maybe it’s the donors that give you £20,000 are going to have private calls with the chief executive, or they are going to be having handwritten cards as well. So having a clear stewardship plan for each area of your donors is really important.

And then meeting regularly to talk about your pipeline. I think it’s very easy to have a number of donors on your pipeline, and you just need to meet regularly about how you’re going to approach those, who is the best content? Its absolutely essential. So if some of these donors, we don’t know them yet, they are quite cold, how are we going to contact them during the year? Who’s going to be able to introduce us to them? And some of them, we have to invite to our events and they never apply, what is that golden thing going to be that’s going to make them attend that event? Is it the location, is it someone else that’s going to invite them? But for every single person, we have to have that sort of strategy, and that sort of golden sort of moment, what’s going to change it for them?

Rob:

And what I’ve found is that lots of people aspire to be that thorough. And for a variety of reasons, it doesn’t quite happen, then they feel guilty, they haven’t got such a plan for some of their donors. I’m curious, what I’ve observed is it doesn’t need to be the biggest document, the fundraisers who do well, they’re okay if it’s a relatively short, can be even half a page, can be a page. I’m curious about what your approach would be, how you manage to actually follow through on this sensible principle?

And the second thing is just in practice, I’m guessing you devote some thinking time to the solving of these problems, but is it also true that once a month you have a catch up and there’s one or two colleagues who join you for these conversations? Just so that our listeners can get a sense of in practice, what have you learned, A, to create the plan, and B, to do the creative seeing of connections?

Angie:

Every month we will have a meeting with the sort of fundraising director and a couple of the heads of department looking at these key donors and what are the actions that we’ve done this month? What are the actions that we need to do? And actually having that in the diary is absolutely essential. If you’ve got a database, setting yourself reminders. I know from going to your training many years ago how you encourage everyone to make those calls to those donors.

And I think being at home, sitting at home by yourself, it’s sometimes pretty terrifying to call up one of these donors. But then just going back to that and what are those three things you want to tell them? And actually asking them about themselves and how they’re coping and just thanking them. I think it’s so important to call your donors. And even if that is your strategy, you’re going to call one… Every donor’s going to be called at least once or twice a year, you’re going to do them a handwritten letter, and sometimes my team get a mad, but every single envelope is always handwritten, and we don’t put anything in the window envelope. So handwritten cards, all those little things really make a difference. And they can be…it doesn’t need to be a big, long strategy, it’s just what are these key things that are going to make that difference with each and every donor? You might just need one single thing.

So for me, another example would be, I met up with a donor who lived in Essex. I knew that a young person who joined The Children’s Trust was about three miles away from where he lived. I updated him about him, and then every time I met with him, I’d give him a little update about Albi, he first gave a donation of £200, five years later, he’s pledged a donation of £10,000. And it is really that personal contact, story telling is absolutely essential. If you can’t be passionate about your charity, tell those stories, stories that really relate with donors, that is absolutely essential.

Rob:

Thank you, Angie. And there’s another thing. From when you and I were talking other day I remember you saying how hard you and your team have worked at match giving appeals, and that that’s really been successful this year. Remind me what the gist has been in terms of that kind of activity, and then after that, maybe we could hear any tips you’ve got about making them work in practice?

Angie:

So during the year we had two big gift appeals. One was for Christmas and one was for our COVID appeal, and we raised… The target each of those was to raise £50,000 and we matched those as well so that was great. And then later on in the year, a donor wanted to make a donation to us, and it for £50,000, I asked him whether he would do a match giving appeal, and he said, “Yes.” So we wrote to some of his contacts and some of his friends and some of our supporters saying that we’ve got this match giving appeal, any donation they will be making in the next three months will be matched, and it will be going towards for the COVID appeal. So that was very successful as well.

And we had donors who normally would give a small amount who really gave sort of exceptional donations because they wanted their gift matched. And we had also other donors who would give £100 pounds or £200 a month normally who made another donation of £5,000. So these were exceptional, additional donations because it was a matched gift giving appeal.

Rob:

Oh, congratulations. And one thing about it is maybe some of the listeners, it would not currently occur to them as a proactive strategy when talking to the existing major donor that they might want to and enjoy using their willingness to give in this way. And what’s interesting to me is you were proactive in having that conversation and then because you had had the idea and were able to talk it through with him or her, it led to such a bigger result, obviously it raises more to help your cause, but it must’ve been more satisfying and more exciting for the donor.

Angie:

Absolutely. And I remember one of your sessions many, many years ago sitting in a big room, you were running around and being very enthusiastic something that you said about being brave. And it is sometimes terrifying when you call up a donor and you’re asking them for a large donation and then asking them for a match giving appeal, it’s really difficult. I think if you feel passionate about it and you’ve got a really good project, so if somebody had to raise £10,000 for a certain appeal, then they can go to a donor to say, “We want to raise £5,000. Would you make that donation and everything will be matched?” I think having a specific project is absolutely key.

And match giving appeals can be really small, it could be for £1,000 and I think it’s really important as well. How would it work with your donors? Is there a Christmas appeal? Or is there a piece of equipment that you need to get raised? Could you ask a donor to make donations for this specific project?

Rob:

Yeah. There’s just several advantages to this approach as far as I can see. One of them is there’s a certain kind of personality that just loves the entrepreneurial excitement of that being a slightly different ask that you’re making and that multiplier effect. And so that might cause the fundraiser to be a bit more brave, as you just mentioned, in wanting to raise this as an idea at all because the idea is slightly different. So that’s one thing that I like about it.

Angie:

I also think what’s good this year is I will be able to go to some of our donors and saying, “Last year we did three match giving appeals which were very successful. We’ve never done this before. We’d like to do another one again next year, would you make a lead donation?” And so they know that it’s worked so far, donors really like it. And so it’s an approach which I think is good.

Rob:

So Angie, I see various advantages in this concept of the match giving appeal and the charity being proactive in raising that as a possibility with some donors who initially may not have thought that way. In terms of the feedback you give to the donor as the appeal is running or feedback they give you that they’re enjoying that technique, is there anything you wanted to add? And then secondly, I sense that a key bit of is not only good to help donors that you don’t know, but also doing it this way might encourage them more to be willing to share with some of their contacts?

Angie:

Yes, absolutely. I think it’s absolutely key to update the donor on their match giving appeal, and send them little WhatsApp messages, or little emails updating them, I would call them. I think it was really important when they had a new donor who’d given to us for the very first time and how we would never have engaged them unless it was for their matched appeal. Then they could really see, not only were they making a donation, but we were getting new donations from donors which was really key.

We also use social media so we had a campaign on Twitter with a match giving campaign, and we generated new donors. They wrote to some of their friends and to encourage them to make a donation. And I don’t think they would’ve done that before. We try to make it easy as possible, really engaging them, and knowing that they really made a difference. And obviously at the end, there was a handwritten letter from the chief executive with a handmade card made by the children to really thank them as well. And I think it’s those little different steps that really make a difference. And that donor were really, really engaged and hopefully they will be able to do that again next year. We haven’t asked them yet, not quite brave enough yet.

Rob:

My goodness, Angie, you’ve been so busy in this challenging year, not just surviving and maintaining, but doing these proactive things to help your donors and your colleagues make this amazing philanthropy happen. Thank you so much for coming on to the podcast to share some of your examples and the lessons you’ve learned along the way. I hope it’s going to really help our listeners to do more of these things, which they might have some of these ideas, but following through on them is not always easy. And the stories you’ve told I think will really help. So Angie Turner, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

Angie:

Thank you.

Rob:

Well, I hope you found Angie’s ideas and examples were helpful. If you did, please do remember to subscribe to the podcast now so that you never miss an episode. For a full transcript and a summary of this episode, go to the podcast section of our website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

As I mentioned earlier, we’re really proud of the results being achieved at the moment by fundraisers who are in the Bright Spot Members Club which is the training and inspiration club we run for fundraisers. If you’d like access to our weekly masterclasses and our problem solving sessions and all my best learning bundles and our supportive community, then please do check out the club today. To find out more or to just dip your toe in and try it for just a month go to brightspot membersclub.co.uk/join.

Now I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who’s been spreading the word about this show to colleagues and on social media, helping us get these examples and tips out to as many charities as possible during the pandemic. I really do appreciate your help. Angie and I would love to hear what you think about today’s episode. We’re both on LinkedIn and on Twitter Angie is @angiecarteruk and I am @woods_rob. Thank you so much for listening today. Best of luck with your fundraising, and I look forward to sharing another episode with you very soon.